Monday, March 05, 2007

Ann Coulter

So, Ann Coulter goes to the Conservative Political Action Conference, and gives a speech calling John Edwards a "faggot". Then again, we should not expect any better from a person who peddles juvenile rhetoric for a living, and gets rich from it. But comparisons to the anti-Catholic statements of John Edwards's bloggers jumped immediately to mind. And please, don't start drawing lines by claiming that she was not on the staff of any leading candidate. She shared the stage with most of the leading candidates for the Southern (sorry, Republican) Party, and at least one (Mitt Romney) was gushing in his praise. Besides, Amanda Marcotte is a foul mouthed nobody. Ann Coulter, in contrast, is a foul mouthed Republican behemoth, who remains one of the most popular figures associated with the party.

Of course, Coulter's neanderthal base will gorge themselves on this red meat, but the reaction from much of the right was eminently more sensible. A typical example was Rod Dreher, who wrote:
"Has the movement launched by Ronald Reagan really devolved to the point where one of its most influential grassroots gatherings features Ann Coulter denouncing a Democratic presidential candidate as a "faggot," to cheers from the audience? Is this really the kind of people we want to be, or to be associated with? How, exactly, do we conservatives protest against the kind of bigoted garbage that Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan were upchucking against Catholics and other Christians if we accept Coulter's offensive shtick?"
Even Michelle Malkin denounces this rhetoric. This is a positive development, and these right-wing commentators deserve praise. Look deeper, however. Many of these pundits note that Coulter is past her "sell by date" and that this kind of childishness plays directly into the hands of the Democrats. Of course, the major problem with this argument is that it assumes her rhetoric was not always beyond the pale. It is only a problem now that Republicans are down.

Certainly, Coulter has not changed. But when Republicans were ascendant, they gleefully wallowed in her vapidity. Sure, she's a bomb thrower, and sure, she's over the top, but she's funny, and she gets under the skin of "liberals", and anyway you shouldn't take this too seriously! But by succumbing to these cheap temptations, many on the right are implicated in the well known "Coulterization of conservatism", contributing to the coarsening and dumbing down of public discourse. At one time, we had the likes of Russell Kirk and William Buckley, intellectuals who argued from reason. Today, reason goes out the window in the era of ideologically-tinged truthiness (ultimate proof that moral relativism is alive and kicking on the right, and is most certainly not confined to the academic left) and schoolyard taunts trump civilized debate. After all, it is only a small step from Ann Coulter to Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (Sean Hannity), and Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton (Jonah Goldberg). For when Coulter has long been cast from the limelight, this is her enduring legacy. And it's not a pretty one.

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